City hopes to wait to repair bluff with other work|[01/09/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 9, 2008

As Vicksburg officials await money to replace the erosion-plagued Washington Street bridge at Clark Street, more immediate action might be taken to shore up adjoining land once used as a Mississippi River overlook, said James “Bubba” Rainer, public works director.

The area, once known as Johnson Park, offered a canopied overlook and a marker depicting its history, remembers former Mayor Joe Loviza.

That history, however, has eroded along with the bank on which the marker, awning and railing sat for decades, leaving not much more than a 34-foot drop that towers over the DiamondJacks Casino parking lot.

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The erosion is part of a larger problem that city officials have been watching closely since the 1970s when the south end of the bridge that crosses over the rail tracks at Clark Street began sinking. The bridge suffered a partial collapse in the mid-1980s and, in 2002, shifted 1 1/2 inches to the east. Erosion and slope-slippage issues have caused city and police officials in the past several months to keep an even closer look, which includes limiting the weight of trucks traveling along the bridge.

The Mayor and Board of Aldermen are now in “a waiting pattern,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said, to have grant money from the Mississippi Department of Transportation turned over to the Federal Railroad Administration, the agency that will control the funds. Kansas City Southern will oversee the construction of a tunnel through the ravine for trains with a road surface on top for vehicles. When construction will start or finish was not known, but the funding is set. In Vicksburg’s October 2006 $16.9 million bond issue, $5 million is earmarked for the project, with $4 million to be repaid in $1 million annual installments of federal money through MDOT and FRA.

While Rainer said waiting for bridge construction would be the ample time to repair the storm drain, the rapid increase of erosion leaves little time for waiting.

“With plans to re-do the bridge, we were hoping to tie the drainage with it,” Rainer said. “But, with the erosion speeding up, we may have to do something temporarily. We’re still hoping we can hold out.”

Although the land is part of Kansas City Southern’s right of way, the city is responsible for maintenance to the storm drain that allows rainfall to leave Washington Street, Rainer said. When the drain is repaired and erosion halted, he said it is doubtful that another overlook will be put in its place.

“It’s a dangerous little spot,” he said of the former park. “There’s no place to park there along Washington Street.”

Plans to replace the current bridge with a steel arch over the tracks, maintained by KCS, were developed to provide minimal interference with the railroad’s train schedule. Leyens said the tunnel will be built in sections to allow roadway traffic to continue along that stretch. Dirt will then be placed on top, a process that will block street traffic for 30 to 45 days.